Richt gets feisty at local tour stop

mlough@macon.comApril 29, 2011 

The interrogators’ voice was low, and only those around him could really hear it.

He was unhappy with Georgia’s running game, running backs, play-calling, a lack of scoring, not enough rushing, too much passing and the performance of running backs coach Bryan McClendon.

Mark Richt heard the man loud and clear, waited for him to finish and answered.

“I’ll tell you this, and you’re certainly close to an expert in football, I’m sure you are,” Georgia’s head football coach said as the 250-plus fans at the Macon stop of the Bulldog Club tour Thursday night at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve began to create a buzz.

And he dissected all of the elements that lead to a good running game, and then he noted that a team has to do more than just run the ball to win.

“I’ve seen teams throw the ball and win the national championship; I’ve seen teams run the ball and win the national championship,” Richt said. “Believe me, you can win the SEC doing it more than one way. Steve Spurrier, when he was at Florida, he chunked the ball, and he won how many SECs?”

And then the temperature rose a little bit more.

“I see your frustration, I understand your frustration,” Richt said, politely but sternly. “I wasn’t born yesterday, I’ve coached football for 25 years, so I know what the hell I’m doing, OK?”

Richt displayed a fire and almost testiness that Georgia fans have yearned to see more of, and it was met with a strong ovation. He reminded them that he didn’t forget how to coach, and that Georgia would get it done.

“I appreciate your passion, I appreciate your support for this football team,” he said. “Everybody can just calm down and know that we’re in good hands.”

Then he wound down on the topic.

“And Bryan McClendon is a hell of a coach, he’s a hell of a recruiter,” Richt said. “And I’m glad we got Bryan McClendon.”

A few minutes later, the man was ready to ask another question, and Richt recalled his word usage during the reply.

“Excuse me for saying ‘h-e-double heck,’ ” Richt said. “I know there’s a media member here. Can you just say that I know what the heck I’m doing? Just so my Sunday school class doesn’t give me grief?”

Of course, his Sunday school class is substantially more forgiving than his Saturday followers in the fall. The Richt on display Thursday was one who seems ready to embrace the expectations of the “dream team” recruiting class and of eliminating the sour taste of going 6-7 in 2010.

Richt said in a one-and-one beforehand and during his talk that tailback is his biggest concern, and he was asked how to motivate often-in-trouble Washaun Ealey.

“All those guys have had ample time in my opinion to take a hold of it,” Richt said, pointing also to upperclassman Caleb King. “No one has. That’s been the most disappointing (thing for) me probably the last couple seasons is that, that position didn’t get solidified by somebody there who was capable.”

He said earlier that the position is more than open.

“The bottom line is we don’t have a tailback right now who deserves to start, in my opinion,” Richt said. “We don’t have a guy that’s proven that he can do all the things we’re going to ask that guy to do. There’s nobody that will stand up and say, ‘This is my job, I’m taking it and I’m keeping it.’ ”

Richt said he saw a difference during the spring from a change in the strength and conditioning program, a difference that will only increase in August. And that will be an interesting time, he said, because that’s when about a third of the team -- the incoming freshmen and transfers -- report.

“What percent of that will be our talent base, I don’t know,” he said of the newcomers’ immediate impact. “I know it’s going to up our talent base.”

Head basketball coach Mark Fox also spoke, and he was more brief in his remarks. Of course, after the Bulldogs’ 21-win season and NCAA tournament berth in his second year and Thursday’s raise and contract extension, he has substantially less heat on him. But the Bulldogs will do some rebuilding with the early departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the NBA.

“We just lost so much scoring, we lost a lot of experienced interior play,” Fox said. “It’s hard to replace them with players of the same quality. We’re going to have to change, we’re going to have to get a little creative in putting the pieces together.

“We’ll spend the offseason looking at ways to tinker with what we do.”

Still, he likes the momentum of the program, which had the ninth-best increase in attendance in the nation last season, thanks in part to major renovations to Stegeman Coliseum.

“It was like a brand new arena,” Fox said. “We have some history there, and we can make it a great home court. There was a lot of energy behind our team, and that was great.”

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